No end to political turmoil even after Rs 2.5 cut

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley addresses the media at North Block, in New Delhi, Thursday. Jaitley announced a cut of Rs 1.50 on excise duty for crude oil and an additional Re 1 will be absorbed by OMCs with immediate effect. PTI

In a sudden move which caught the Opposition napping, the government on Thursday went for a Rs 2.5 cut in petrol diesel prices, a decision which was quickly matched with equal cuts by most BJP-ruled states. 

The decision was taken after a lot of deliberation in the government and the BJP as it was felt that rising fuel prices can really do the party in with elections in four states this year and the general election in 2019.

BJP chief Amit Shah said all BJP-ruled states have decided to reduce VAT by Rs 2.5 a litre on petrol and diesel and the decision shows sensitivity of Modi government.

Congress alleged the move was timed with upcoming polls.

Last month, Yoga guru Ramdev, who had strongly backed BJP in 2014, had struck a note of caution saying if fuel prices were not controlled, it will prove costly for Modi government in the elections.

NDA ally in Uttar Pradesh Om Prakash Rajbhar had also warned that the country has a history of governments falling because of price rise. “Whenever there is a rise in petrol and diesel prices, the party in power has to suffer as this affects traders, youths, farmers and the poor,” he had said.

The issue of fuel price was also discussed by the BJP during its national executive here last month and BJP had chalked out plans to “educate” people on the reasons behind fuel price hike after a number of leaders cautioned in an internal meeting that rising prices could create real troubles for the party in elections.

While BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said this step proves the “love and dedication” of the government towards the people of India, Opposition parties kept up the heat on the government and dismissed the cut as “cheating” and a “drop in the ocean”.

The Congress mocked the step using a Hindi proverb (nau sau chuhe khaakar billi haj ko chali) to denote someone trying to sanitise wrongdoing for a long time with a one-time high moral act.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, whose government did not announce any matching cut in fuel taxes, said on Twitter: “Modi government increased excise duty by Rs 10 per litre and then cut it by Rs 2.5. This is cheating. The central government should effect at least a Rs 10 cut.”

“What price cut? Withdraw all excise. India has the MOST expensive fuel in South Asia. Why is #BigTalkOnlyBJP govt unable to control oil prices? BJP govt increased the tax on petrol by Rs 10. Increased diesel tax by Rs 11.77. Bengal never ever raised, only cut fuel tax,” tweeted Rajya Sabha MP and national spokesperson of Trinamool Congress Derek O’ Brien.

States reciprocate

Poll-bound Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where BJP is facing a tough electoral battle this year-end, were quick to announce a matching cut taking the total reduction in fuel prices to Rs 5. Vasundhara Raje, Chief Minister of another poll-bound state Rajasthan, had already announced a 4% cut in the VAT on petrol and diesel last month.

BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tripura, Assam, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand also joined in announcing tax cuts.

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No end to political turmoil even after Rs 2.5 cut

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